Family and gender
Agavaceae, gen agave with more than 300 species
Type of plant
Multi-annual or perennial succulent
Depending on the species
Abundant during the growing season
Green, variegated, streaked, glaucous
From 50 cm to 1.5 meters
Bulbs, basal or seed castings
This species of succulent plants is one of the most numerous and varied (groups more than 300 varieties). The stem is generally very short and the leaves start numerous from the base. A characteristic of the leaves is that they are very fleshy and stocky. The root system consists of a beam
of very compact roots, formed by very long fine capillaries, which allow the plant to reach the water even very deep.
- succulent plant native to Mexico, widespread throughout the Mediterranean area and in many temperate places around the globe. It forms dense basal rosettes of fleshy leaves, triangular, arched, long 1.5 m…
- succulent plant native to Mexico; it produces a wide rosette of succulent leaves, tall up to 60-80 cm and wide even 100-150 cm; the leaves are elongated, rigid and fleshy, very thick, with a very high…
- Succulent plain native to Central and South America, very well adapted to Mediterranean climates, is well known especially for the particularity of blooming a single time, just before the first day of the…
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usually develops in the summer months. The plant must reach maturity before flowering (which takes several years). These plants die once flowered, but other plants are generated by the flower or suckers. The plant is perennial and has woody thorns on the
edge and on the top of the leaf. Like most succulent plants, the agave also produces an inflorescence, which develops on the apex of a stem that starts from the center (it can reach even ten meters high).
The cultivation of agaves is, under the right climatic conditions, very simple. They are resistant plants that grow quickly and give a lot of satisfaction. They are certainly suitable for Mediterranean gardens, that is, for all coastal areas characterized by aridity during the summer period.
This plant is native to the desert areas of America, but is also very present in Italy, in the more temperate areas of the south.
In the north these plants must be sheltered in greenhouses or under verandas, with temperatures not lower than five degrees. In addition to low temperatures, the plant suffers greatly from water stagnation, while it bears well long periods of drought. The ideal exposure for these plants is undoubtedly the full sun throughout Italy. In the central-northern areas it is imperative to have a warm and sheltered exposure.
In this way the agave will enjoy the best conditions even during the cold season.
In the south of the peninsula or in very hot coastal areas, a mid-shade location may also be suitable. However, there must be at least 5 hours of full sun and the rest of the day must be very bright.
Rusticity and winter
Rusticity depends very much on the species. Some are quite rustic, others are not at all. In general (and in particular for the most common ones: American agave, Victoriae-Reginae, ferox, filifera, stricta) we can say that the minimum temperature they can bear is -13°C. They can therefore be easily cultivated almost all over Italy provided that they are placed in a place sheltered from the wind and with an exposure in full sun during the winter.
In any case, if you do not live in the South or on the coasts, it is almost essential to protect the specimen with transparent plastic, insulating material or at least a double layer of non-woven fabric. If the plant is in a container, it is surely better to withdraw it, at least, in a well-lit cold greenhouse, because outside, there is the risk that the roots will freeze, especially if the pot is very small. The ideal summer temperatures range from 20 to 30°C.
If we want to grow the agave in the middle of the earth, we should remember that it wants a well drained soil, which tends to be subacidic. It is therefore better to avoid soils that are too clayey and compact, which could cause rottenness at the base of the plant. If the substratum of our garden is not suitable we can replace it by digging a very deep hole.
This should then be filled with a potting soil for cacti or with a compound in which there is a high percentage of sand and gravel very small.
The agaves bear very well the drought, but, contrary to what is believed, in order to live at their best, they need to have always the substratum at least a little humid.
During the growing season, from March to September, they must be irrigated continuously. However, it is necessary to avoid water stagnation because it could cause rottenness in the roots or in the rosette of the leaves. In particular, when proceeding you should be careful to wet only the substrate and not the leaves, the collar or the inside of the rosette. There is a danger that the water will stagnate for a long time before evaporating and becoming a source of pathogens.
From September onwards, towards the period of vegetative rest, the water supply can be gradually reduced. In winter, it is possible to intervene slightly, even only once a month, to prevent the substratum from drying up completely.
These are fast growing plants and therefore require a good amount of nutrients. In addition, their draining substrate is unlikely to retain the micro and macro elements.
To keep these succulents vital, it is a good idea to administer a specific fertilizer for succulent plants every twenty days. Usually the formulations on the market are liquid and should be diluted in irrigation water. A good fertilizer for succulents must have a proportion of NPK 1-3-5, therefore not very rich in nitrogen and with a higher concentration of phosphorus and potassium. Let’s also make sure that good amounts of trace elements are present in the formulation.
As we have said, most agaves only bloom once, in late summer, when they reach full maturity. Depending on the species, the age ranges from 8 to over 40 years. If grown in pots, they may never flower. If you notice that the plant is emitting the flower stem you have the choice between two ways. The first is to enjoy the beautiful flowering and wait until the plant reaches its end (it can take several years). An alternative is to cut the stem.
The plant will still die, but not wasting energy to bloom and for the seeds will last a little longer. Of course, it will no longer emit new leaves, but it will remain at a standstill. Personally, since it is a plant that multiplies easily and over the years you have already had the opportunity to take suckers, I think it is worth enjoying the well-deserved flowering and then let the agave follow its natural cycle.
Cultivation in pots
In almost all of the north of the peninsula, given the winters are not very lenient, it is customary to cultivate these succulents in containers so that they can be moved and repaired.
The first advice is to always choose pots that are not too large: the larger the size, the more you risk irrigating excessively and creating stagnation (perhaps the only great enemy of the agaves).
So let’s choose a pot that is a little larger than the root system. On the bottom we can create a draining layer with expanded clay or gravel. The ideal compound for these succulents is very light and not able to retain water. On the market there are already bags of substrate specifically designed for these needs. If we want we can add some fine river sand and some pebbles.
If we want to create the substrate we should compose it with 30% fine gravel, 30% river sand and 40% soil for green plants or garden earth not too compact. Even a few handfuls of leaf soil will not be a problem. Repottings should be done frequently, even once a year, as the plant is very vigorous. We choose, if possible, terracotta or natural material containers which favour the transpiration and also the recirculation of the air, helping in the prevention of rottenness.
The agaves do not need to be pruned, but only the periodical cleaning of the exhausted basal leaves. Periodically, some of them tend to dry out and must be eliminated promptly to prevent them from becoming a vehicle of disease. They should be cut with a well-sharpened shear or knife and disinfected (on the flame or with bleach) as close as possible to the base.
The propagation of the a. is very simple. The plant periodically produces shoots at the base that tend to detach from the mother. You have to wait until they have reached at least 10 cm in length and take them with a well disinfected knife. They should then be left in the air for about two days and placed in individual jars with potting soil for cacti. For about two months, they must be kept in the shade and at a temperature of 15-18°C, with the substratum always humid.
As soon as we are sure of the taking root, we can begin to treat it normally, moving it in full sun.
Pests and adversity
As we have said, they are very resistant plants. The most common problem is excessive irrigation. If we notice that the plant loses vitality and the leaves turn yellow, we immediately check the soil. If there is too much moisture in the soil, it is better to wait for the substrate to dry out completely and change the irrigation method.
If the plant is very debilitated, it may be necessary to remove it from the pot, let it dry well in the sun and then completely change the substrate, perhaps mixing a few granules of product for the prevention of rottenness. Another traditional enemy of the agaves is the Scudetto cochineal. Usually, it can be seen on the lower part of the leaves and involves a strong general debilitation of the subject. If there are few, they can be removed manually, disinfecting the part with alcohol.
Otherwise, it is necessary to resort to insecticides, possibly systemic, and to some mineral oil. They can also be affected by red spider webs: the leaves turn yellow. It must be fought by increasing the humidity and vaporizing a specific acaricide.
Here are some of the best known:
American agave (some interesting varieties are:
A. Victoria-reginae ,
A. Ferox ,
A. Filifera ,
A. parvi flora,
A. Palmeri lanciniata,
A. ferdinandi regi,
A. tequilana (used in mexico for the production of tequila).
Agave is a plant that in Central America, its area of origin, has been widely exploited for centuries for its properties. The leaves of agave in fact contain a sugary juice that as many of you know, is used for the production of tequila that is obtained through its fermentation, but this is certainly not the only use that you can make of agave.
In the past, the fibrous leaves of agave were very much utilized for the production of different materials, but nowadays its utilizations are mainly related to the field of the alternative medicine and the phytotherapy. The juice d’ agave is a very sweet substance which can be used instead of sugar, even if recent research shows that other preparations such as honey are preferable to this substance.
In addition to this use, there are other uses of agave that exploit its digestive, tonic and diuretic properties. There are powdered preparations, herbal teas, creams and other preparations that can help to solve small problems or can be used as adjuvants.
Agave as a sweetener
One of the most famous properties of agave, as already mentioned, is certainly its high sugar content. This characteristic is the same reason why agave is used to produce tequila, alcoholic obtained through the fermentation of the leaves of this plant.
In an age in which sugar is increasingly looked at with crooked eyes because of its high calorie content, the problems that its excessive consumption entails and other reasons that we are not listing in this article, the agave and in particular the sugar syrup extracted from its leaves, is a viable alternative to refined sugar.
However, it is also good to be careful of the syrup d’ agave, as well as all those substances that spread among lovers of natural products. It seems that some agave syrups are incorrectly extracted and also contain an excessive amount of concentrated fructose.
Before using the agave as a sweetener, therefore, we recommend that you find out about and find products that are really a valid and healthier alternative to sugar.
Watch the Video
- Agave belongs to the Agavaceae family and is native to tropical areas such as South America and India. E’
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- There are numerous species of agave, which have many characteristics in common but also differ in how much r
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